Strategic Planning For the Future (Part 3)
Your team is the most valuable asset you have for making progress toward your vision. But staffing issues are one of the biggest reasons churches get stuck.
Before you can assess your staffing and structure, you need to have clarity around what you are trying to accomplish. You need to understand the vision (where you believe God is leading your church to go over the next 3-5 years) and your core strategies to accomplish that vision.
Once these are defined, you can begin to identify what structure, roles, and people are needed.
HOW TO STRUCTURE FOR YOUR STRATEGY
In Part 1 of our series on Strategic Planning for the Future, Amy and I broke down the four key elements to assessing health. Then, in Part 2, we made a case for strategic planning as the key to long-term healthy growth.
A lot of pastors are tempted to jump right into addressing staff issues. But it’s only after we know where we are (assessment) and where we’re going (planning) that we can ask the staffing question: Who does what? This week, Amy and I are explaining how The Unstuck Group approaches the staffing and structure process, and walking through:
- Identifying the strengths and weaknesses on your team
- Clarifying decision rights
- Assessing leadership capacity and potential
- Why your structure needs to change
Resources Mentioned in This Episode
- Series Episode 1: Assessing Your Ministry’s Health Today
- Series Episode 2: Silver Bullets & Strategic Planning
- Take the Leading From Your Strengths Assessment
- Take the Unstuck Teams Assessment (available through the Unstuck Learning Hub)
- Listen to Episode 149 – “Clarifying Decision Rights”
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Discover the Unstuck Process
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What’s been fascinating to me as I’ve engaged with pastors and church leaders around structure and people is that pastors and church leaders tend to come at staffing and structure thinking about people first and then structure and then strategy. They ask these key questions in this order: who do we have? Then, what can they do? And then what can we all accomplish? And, again, those are great questions, but in the Unstuck Process, we actually reverse the order. And we ask the questions in this order: What is God calling us to do? And then what structure gives us the best opportunity to accomplish that? And then who fits these roles?
Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. If you want to accomplish your mission, your staff and the people around you are your greatest resource. So often though, we hear from pastors who feel uncertain whether they have the right people in the right roles. On today’s podcast, Tony and Amy finish up our series with the conversation on how you can structure your team to support the vision. If the conversations through the series around assessment and planning for a healthier future are resonating with you, I invite you to join Tony, Amy and myself on September 23rd for our free Finding Church Health Again webinar. In this 60-minute webinar, we want to help you think through how you assess your ministry health today, give you some practical tools that you can use to get clarity before you make new plans and help you think through the most strategic way to evaluate your organizational structure and then align it to your strategy. It’s all happening on September 23rd at 1 p.m. EST, and you can register and learn more at theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. Now, let’s join Tony and Amy for today’s conversation.
Well, this is the final podcast in our series walking through the three phases of the Unstuck Process. The first week we talked through the importance of the assessment phase, meaning before we start planning, it’s important to know what is our starting point; where are we healthy and what parts of our ministry are stuck? And then last week, Tony did a great job just walking through the planning process. And this was all about the importance of having a plan, working that plan, and taking action on the top priorities coming out of that planning. And this week, we’re talking about the third part of the Unstuck Process, which is the staffing and structure phase. Once we know where we are (our starting point) and where we’re going (the planning part), now we ask who does what? And we align the church’s structure to their core strategies and help the leaders assess if they have all the right roles and all the right leaders. And to quote Jim Collins, again, Tony, “assess if the right people are in the right seats on the bus.”
There you go.
Yeah, Tony, I wasn’t here 12 years ago when you started The Unstuck Group, but this aspect of our process, I think, at least I think it is, it’s always been here since the beginning. Can you share with us the heart behind why you’ve always had the staffing and structure piece as part of the Unstuck Process?
Yeah, absolutely. You’re right. It always has been a part of the process. And I actually think that kind of was just ingrained in me going back even pre-ministry days, but certainly in ministry, I was a part of some great teams. And what I recognized was even with a clear, bold vision and great strategies, the team also needs to be structured well with the right people in the right roles to accomplish something significant. So it really has been a part of the process from the very beginning. I will say though, Amy, I think early on I was thinking about the organizational structure more than the individual strengths of the people on the team. I remember, at some point along the way, beginning to think about tools that could help us really understand the strengths of the individuals and incorporating that into the process. But, honestly, until you joined the team, and I know others were involved in this process as well, it really was nowhere close to the robust process that it is today. And we’ll talk more about that process in a moment, but what’s been fascinating to me as I’ve engaged with pastors and church leaders around structure and people is that pastors and church leaders, I think, tend to come at staffing and structure thinking first people and then structure and then strategy. And so they ask these key questions in this order: Who do we have then? What can they do? And then what can we all accomplish? And again, those are great questions, but in the Unstuck Process, we actually reverse the order. In other words, we do strategy and then structure and then people. And we ask the questions in this order: What is God calling us to do? And then what structure gives us the best opportunity to accomplish that? And then who fits these roles? And so it’s almost like we reverse how we help churches process staffing and structure decisions.
Yeah. And would I be right in saying, Tony, when you talk with different churches, when they call us, they’re often wanting us to work on the staffing part before they plan.
Yeah. Again, it’s fire, fire, fire, Amy. So we got to deal with the people challenges first. I mean, like I mentioned in the first episode in this series, many pastors want us to skip, honestly, both the assessment and the planning process many times. And like I said, that would be like your doctor trying to prescribe a health plan for your body without evaluating your vital signs, without taking blood tests, without understanding your family health history. So that’s not going to help you get healthy. The staffing and structure piece is the other part of what pastors really want us to jump into. Often they’re experiencing some pain, some pinch point on the people’s side of their ministry, and they want to address that before they start planning. But again, that would really be a mistake because before we can assess what structure and people changes need to happen, we really do need to have clarity around what they’re wanting to accomplish. We need to understand vision. We need to know where is God leading your church into the future. We need to understand your core ministry strategies. And once these foundational elements and directional elements are defined, then we can talk about structure, the roles that people need to fill and who specifically is filling those roles.
And Tony, we’ve always been a proponent of bringing an outside facilitator in when teams plan. It’s what we do each year at The Unstuck Group. Even though any of us could facilitate our planning time, we choose to bring somebody from the outside in because we value the perspective they bring. They ask good questions. They help us think more broadly and more deeply than if one of us would have been doing it. And while bringing someone in from the outside for planning is extremely important, I think it might be just as important, maybe even more, when dealing with the staffing and structure side of the equation. Do you agree with that?
Yeah. I mean, absolutely. I agree with that. And especially as it relates to staffing and structure, and I think it’s because you know, Amy, on the other side of the equation, we’re talking about things like the mission of the organization, vision, direction for the future, the strategies that we’re engaging, the priority objectives we have. And because it’s more organizational rather than individual, there’s not as much connection emotionally or relationally to strategic alignment.
But when we start talking about structural alignment, we’re getting to the people side of the equation. And as the leader of an organization, especially pastors leading church teams, it’s really hard for them to take that objective approach, kind of remove emotions, remove the relational ties, to make the right decisions that need to be made for the organization when it comes to the people. And because of that, having an outside facilitator really is a great way for pastors to be able to get that outside perspective from someone who’s unbiased, somebody that’s unemotional about the decisions that are being made, doesn’t have the relational connections. They can bring that perspective. That’s helpful for the pastor, and Amy, I mean, we’ve seen this many times. Again, like we talked about a couple of weeks ago, there’s usually not a lot of surprises on the other side of even our staffing and structure conversation. I mean, most oftentimes what we hear from pastors is thank you for confirming what I was sensing in my gut. And maybe what I was concerned about moving on because of the relational connection, because of the close ties I have with these folks. But of course, on the other side of that, if we don’t lean into those key decisions around people, not only is that impacting the long-term health of our ministry, but we know, Amy, it’s also impacting the long-term health of that individual as well. And so we just can’t let those conversations go.
Yeah. I agree with you. There is a lot of times where, especially for the senior pastor, confirming some things that they’ve been sensing, because they don’t want to make a big move unless it’s really confirmed, so we can help there. At the same time, I find that senior pastors don’t always know what they need around them. And so this objective look at who are the key leaders that are reporting to you and what kind of leaders do you actually need so that you can stay in your lane as a senior pastor. So there are some surprises when we look at, you know, the gift mix, the strengths mix, those types of things. They find some confidence where they need to lean in on things. And by the way, it’s not always getting rid of people or things like that. Sometimes it’s just in the wrong role or having an honest conversation about some things that need to shift in how our leaders are leading.
That’s good. That’s good. Yeah. All right, Amy, because you spend so much time working with churches and staffing and structure, can you walk our listeners through how we approach this phase of The Unstuck Process?
Yeah, sure. As we mentioned earlier, if we begin with the end in mind, the win for this phase of the engagement is really to have a structure that aligns the staff to the stuff you’re trying to get done. Okay. That’s the primary deliverable, but there’s a lot of other things baked into this that get us to that finish line. First, we assess the individual strengths of the key leaders on the team. And so we have the teams take this Leading From Your Strengths assessment. They get the results, and then when we come onsite, we facilitate a review of that assessment, and we walk through strengths related to problem solving, processing information, managing change and facing risk. And then it also kicks out into a DISC wheel. And we talk about how the team looks. We look at the diversity of the team, or sometimes the lack of diversity, and then we actually get to see the way the team is adapting right now, how they’re responding to their current environment. And so that’s a really fun conversation. It’s great discovery when we look at this body of Christ at this church, how God has designed each person and then the natural strengths they bring to the team. And then we move into a conversation around decision rights. We walk through the seven ways that decisions can be made and clarify with the team how they can use this language going forward. Another important part of this engagement is to assess the overall team health with The Unstuck Teams Assessment. And this tool starts clarifying your team’s story by providing this self-assessed aggregate perspective of your staff’s personal health, their team health, their personal performance, their team performance, their systems and their culture. And while again, structure is a key deliverable with this phase, we get to learn what’s healthy and what stuck on a team level. And that gives us some insights to how, when we do do a structure tweak or we do a complete restructure, the leaders now know these are the key things we need to keep our eyes on. Number one, let’s celebrate and reinforce where we’re really healthy. Let’s not lose that. And then what are two or three things that really we can do a better job at and kind of roll out with this structure at the same time? The next part of the engagement is most often just spent with the executive leaders at the church. And of course this depends on church size. Sometimes it’s me and the lead pastor, sometimes it’s me and the lead and executive. And sometimes there’s an executive team, but this is where we’re getting into more of assessing current staff on the team. So first we assess staff leadership capacity and potential. We work through some exercises to assess leaders on their character, their chemistry, their competence, their alignment to the church’s culture. And we assess their current leadership capacity and then their potential to lead at higher levels. And by the way, we do all of these things, we have all of these conversations, before we start talking structure, because getting all of this perspective work done helps us have a more objective view when we actually get into the process of structure recommendations. And then the next part. Unlike planning, where we facilitate exercises that help leaders build their plan, right? You just said it before. We have unique churches out there. They’re going to have unique plans. The staffing and structure is actually a little bit more prescriptive because on day two of the engagement, we actually come with high-level structure recommendations that we feel will best serve the visions and strategies of the church. In other words, we don’t start with a team and a white board. We actually come in based on what we know about their strategic plans, what we’re learning about how they are as a church team, what structure will best serve them. And by the way, there’s no names on this yet. Remember we’re doing strategy first, then structure. We’ll get to people. But we’re just talking positions. And we talk through the structure draft, and we work together to get it where it needs to be. And then once we actually confirm that high-level structure, then we start to talk through who will fit in those roles. And because this is like a customized process for every team, sometimes, you know, the landing point, I always tell my pastors, if we get this far, that’s fine. If we get this far, that’s fine. We’re going to finish where we finish, because instead of like the two day planning process, staffing and structure is really more about a six to eight week process. So we’re there for those two days. And we come out with a draft of what their structure can be. But this is a part of the process where I often say, we don’t want to tip a domino before we’re ready to tip a domino. We want to confirm this plan. We want to pray over this. We want to make sure we’re making the right calls, really do the planning process to build out how we’re going to confirm the structure, how we’re going to communicate it. And so again, you know, we enter into just virtual calls to make sure we’re continuing to check off the list as we build that structure.
Yeah. Again, very comprehensive process. And the feedback that we get every single time is the pastors and church leaders, executive church leaders especially, love this part of our process because it just brings so much clarity to the next steps that need to be taken. And, you know, in addition to having a recommended structure for moving forward, usually on the other side of this, you almost end up with a future staffing plan too, because it’s really unusual for churches to be able to cover all of the positions that need to be filled. And so we help them think about priorities around future staffing positions. And again, that seems to be very valuable to the pastors and church leaders that we’re serving. Amy, my suspicion is this, that there’s probably some common challenges that you see when you assess a church’s structure. Could you maybe highlight what some of those common challenges are?
Sure. One of them for sure is span of care. I mean, we just worked with a church where one executive pastor had 14 direct reports. That’s not going to be a structure that’s going to serve your strategy well, so span of care is often an issue.
I’ve seen senior pastors with that many direct reports too, and I’m thinking, there’s no way you can do that because in addition, I mean, you just can’t lead 14 people, but also you’re trying to prepare messages every week too. There’s no way you can do that. Yeah. Span of care is an issue.
I often find many churches are overstaffed on the shepherding gift and understaffed on the high-capacity leadership gift, and real parallel to that there’s often too many doers and not enough leaders, right? We’re doing too much ministry. We’re not giving it away. Another really common one, Tony, is just this scattering of responsibility. In other words, that whole thing about who do we have? What can they do? They just kind of, you know, in a crazy way, give out ministry responsibilities. And again, this is the objective view when I step back. It’s just disorganized.
Yeah. That’s right. And the way I would describe it is many times we see churches structuring around ministry programs, individual mastery programs, rather than a comprehensive ministry strategy. And we try to take the reverse of that approach. And as you do that, you do, you get more clarity about those ministry lanes.
Yep. I often find there are senior pastors that are just doing too much. They don’t have a complete enough team around him or her, and they’re not focused on those four things that we tell senior pastors they can’t delegate. And then, you know, multi-site, Tony, multi-site has everything I just said, you know, the structures I look at, and then they have this complexity of doing church in two locations or three locations and not really knowing how the staff communicates and works together. So top of mind, those are some of the very common issues that I run into.
I agree with all of those. And we should probably just do a series of podcasts at some point, though, on all of the challenges that we see around staffing and structure in churches. Cause it would be a pretty good list, I think.
I could see you getting some energy around that. You know, I’m just going to jump to this, Tony. You know, most churches, I think, they just evolve into their structures. This is really what I see. It’s rare that a team steps back, assesses their vision and strategies and intentionally resets the structure. And I’ve said many times on this podcast, your structure is a strategy. Strategy should change, so structures should change. And I’m not talking like every three months, but if you’re a growing church, you should have plans to how your structure will adapt and change as your structure grows. For instance, when I see a church is dreaming, you know, part of their vision is expansion through multi-site. When we design their structure, I’m not just designing it for their next step, but we’re talking through what does it look like when you have your third campus? Your fourth? So they can see the destination, but again, most churches just evolve. They never really stop and pause. And so that’s why we end up in these things with span of care or overstaffed on certain gifts, understaffed on other ones.
And let me just add particularly for growing churches, whether that’s in the number of people, the number of staff, the number of campuses, the number of, you know, missions, outposts that you have in your community, as that growth happens, the structure has to change over time. You know, I used to, when I was back in ministry full time and part of fast-growing churches, it would not be unusual, Amy, for us to be revisiting structure every 12 to 18 months, just because there was so much change happening in the ministry that we had to, on a regular basis, kind of look at the structure to make sure it was continuing to help us support the strategies that we were engaging as a ministry.
Yeah. Well, Tony, do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Well, again, I’ve loved the series, talking about assessment, finding out what’s healthy, and maybe where the opportunities are for next steps in our ministry, actually planning for the future and getting clarity around key conversations about future vision and direction and the ministry strategies that we’re engaging and so on. But this third topic around staffing and structure, we know, Amy, is very critical to the ministries that we’re serving. And, I hope this conversation was helpful for you. It helps you begin to think about how you approach staffing and structure in your church. But we also want to offer more help if we can. In fact, we’re going to be diving deeper into this topic and the other two topics in an upcoming webinar on September 23rd. It’s called “Finding Church Health Again,” and Amy and I will be joined by Sean Bublitz from our team for a really practical conversation around honestly assessing your ministry’s health today, making a plan for the future and then aligning your team to that new strategy. And you can register for this free one hour webinar by visiting theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. Or if you heard enough in our conversation today to know we need to get Amy on site. We need to get one of the ministry consultants from The Unstuck Group on site, working with our church, particularly as it relates to staffing and structure. I mean, we want to move forward with you in that. We want to help you take those next steps. And so you can begin that process by reaching out to our team at theunstuckgroup.com/start.
Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, don’t forget to register for our upcoming webinar on “Finding Church Health Again” on September 23rd at 1:00 PM. You can learn more and register at theunstuckgroup.com/webinar. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast and it’s been helpful for you in some way, we would love your help in getting the content out further, and you can help by rating and reviewing us on your favorite podcasting platform. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.